“Her name ith Emily.” That is how the night began, with Jay shoving his phone into my face, showing me a woman’s face and telling me when the reservation was for. I spent almost twenty minutes figuring it was someone needing a magician. Words gets out that magicians exist, though seldom through unusual channels. Jay, of course, had no problem with me thinking that at all, telling me I should look nice and half shoving me out of the apartment door. He put a map to the restaurant in my hand.
I opened the door back up and asked what kind of meeting this was. Jay isn’t human: he can lie, but lies break bindings and he hates to do it. He can do tricks, and deceive, though his face gives it away almost all the time. I’m not sure how much of that is Jay, and how much because he appears to be a human boy of about ten when he’s not either of those things.
“Jay.” That was all it took, his name stern and hard and he confessed that he’d set me up on a date. Using the internet. And he expected it to go well and he was paying for it with money I’d given him to spend on games so I didn’t get to say no, thank you very much. I told him a few ways it could go wrong – from experience, in at least half the cases – and he listed ways it could go right.
His list told me he’s watching way too much prime-time TV on his phone. But he meant well. And if he thought I needed a date, I probably did. He sees the world in terms of bindings, to a degree even magicians can’t manage. It can tell him a lot, but how he interprets it depends a lot on him. So I left with the map and walked. I made wards out of lovers spats in case I was running into a succubus, and other ones from the wind and rain for general danger.
I’m almost at the restaurant when I pause, and reach through the bindings Jay and I have with each other. Emily is a girl?
Yep! comes back.
I date more men than I do women, Jay. So why –?
Becauthe I’ve theen the kind of guys you date. By which he meant creatures from far Outside the universe that Jay didn’t really get on with at all. Not that Walkers of the Far Reaches were the kind of creatures one got on with. They were the kind of monsters who policed other monsters, and definitely not the sort magicians slept with.
I’d had my reasons; Jay didn’t care about any of them. And he didn’t normally lisp when thinking, which meant he was seriously nervous about this. So I let it go, come into the restaurant. Smile. Magicians are good at smiling, often enough. It’s an easy magic, and one most people seldom notice.
Emily turns out to be a tall, dark-haired woman who lives in the city. Her husband died two years ago, her sister has been urging her to date again. She’s 25, a pices and works for a law firm getting data for cases. I tell her I travel, often doing magic tricks for a living – and send one of her earrings away and bring it back as a simple proof – and keep the conversation about the city, her life, her friends.
I am a powerful magician; I seldom consider myself a good person, but I am good at listening. I listen, make space for her in my life, and she talks and we end up leaving and just walking through a park near her home. It doesn’t occur to her that she isn’t safe with me, though she might never be sure why: I look ordinary. Dull, boring. The kind of person you could drop into an office and lose in cubicles. It’s a look I’ve spent a few years working at and I do nothing to dispel it. Emily Chitwood is entirely human and living in a normal world and I do nothing to break that.
Which means I bind Jay against speech and coming closer when I sense him following us.
Emily invites me further into her life; I decline, though gently, and make sure she makes it to her steps safely before walking away. I fling a ward out as I walk, sharp and hard, and Jay is flung back head over heels, then scrambles to his feet and breaks my binding with a glare that is more hurt than glower.
“You forthed me to stay away,” he says, and the hurt in his voice asks for reply.
“Jay. What would you have done?”
“Told you to kith her, of courthe!”
“And how do you think she would have reacted to a random ten year old kid showing up and demanding we kiss?”
Jay pauses, giving the matter thought as I keep walking. He falls into step beside me. “I’m tough.”
“I am aware of that.”
“I would have been fine if thhe had tathered me,” he says proudly.
“And you think Emily would have been if you’d broken the bindings she’d placed around her life?”
“Yeth?” he says warily. I say nothing. He fills the silence, still wary. “Becauthe they thtop her from theeing the world ath it really ith, Honcho.”
“They stop her from seeing the world as you see it. Or as I do. All you would have done is taken away the illusions she built her life around and left nothing but the ruins of them behind. It’s a cruel thing to do to anyone, to make them see that there is more to the world they’ve lived in all their life than they want to accept. Everything I said to her was a lie, Jay, because the truth would only wound her without cause.”
“Oh,” he says softly. “You could have told me.”
“That it wouldn’t work out?” Jay nods. “She might not have been normal. That was the better odds, given how things happen to magicians. And it was a nice evening and a quiet one.”
“Quiet is –.” He pauses. I don’t have to look over to feel his eyes narrowing. “Becauthe I wathn’t there, Honcho?”
“Now that you mention it, there was a certain lack of games played on phones. And conversation involving the word conversation being said properly.” That wins an indignant yelp and I reach over and ruffle his hair. “Thank you.”
“That didn’t thound like thankth,” he mutters.
“I didn’t want you thinking I wanted you to try that again. I am going to pay attention to what you’re watching on your phone now.”
“And if you try to set me up on a date again, I will do the same for you.”
Jay blinks, gapes at me, and then just walks in silence. I say nothing, knowing his imagination will make the results more terrible than anything I could actually do. He plays games on his phone when we get back to the motel, and makes a point of asking “do you want to have a converthation?” twice, sounding rather smug about the entire evening.
I find it easier to fall asleep than I do most nights; I don’t think too hard about why.